Magnetic Watercolor Box


I have been a watercolorist for 40+ years.

For many of those years, I used nothing but tube watercolors, painted only in my studio, and only on 300 lb Arches watercolor paper.

Seven years ago, I began painting in art journals and everything changed. Moleskine sketchbook pages were smaller – and did not handle moisture that well. Portability became a big thing  - whether I was painting in the garden or sitting on a knee wall on Canyon Road, or on a rock in some National Park.

So, I switched to half pans.

As is my wont and weakness, I collected and tested every pan watercolor known to woman, and began the quest for the perfect portable paintbox.

If you have followed this blog for a long time, you have been privy to some of that.

Like HERE:

and HERE:

Never satisfied!

So one day, while reading the Artist Journal Workshop blog (where I am a contributor), I came across a post about a wonderful little magnetic paintbox in a business card case, created by expeditionary artist, Maria Coryell-Martin . . .

magnetic palette

These are wonderful, they cost $28 and you can buy them from Maria here:

Maria Coryell-Martin

The bottom of the case is magnetic and the pans can be rtearranged. The inside of the cover serves as a palette of sorts, and you fill the pans yourself from tubes.

I bought two and I love them for carrying along some very esoteric colors that are not part of my everyday palette.

But they are tiny (business card size), and I also have many already filled half pans that are way too expensive to abandon. There just had to be a way to apply this idea to my bigger palette.

I bought a package of those business card size adhesive magnetic sheets at an office supply store, and I cut a piece to fit the bottom of all my half pans. You can see how that looks here . . .


Winsor & Newton and some other pre-filled half pans come with the color name printed on the sides or bottom of the pan. My favorite brand, Schmincke, does not, so I wrote the color on the outside of each pan with permanent marker. Of course, any pans you fill yourself will have to be labeled as well.

Empty half pans are sold at a reasonable price at Daniel Smith.

Half pans in a metal paintbox are usually held in place with metal tabs which are a pain, in my opinion. But that insert lifted right out of the Schmincke box I was using, so I just put the half pans, now magnetic, back in the plain metal bottom of the box.

And, I did a journal page about it . . .


I was able to add more pans than the box had been holding with its tabs, and this worked fine for awhile.

Two things were bothering me, however. The colors were so crowded in the box that I kept slopping some of one onto the next, and I could rearrange the colors, but it was hard to get hold of the edge of the pans – especially when the paint was wet.

Well, three things, actually. I also wanted more room because I wanted to add more colors! There it is again – that color oinky syndrome. We all gotta have a syndrome of some kind, right?

I wanted a metal box that was not aluminum (magnets won’t stick), AND that was very thin so it would slip in my journaling bag (show you later) with my journal and iPad.

Just thick enough for the height of the half pans, but no thicker.

Off to the art supply store I went to look at colored pencil sets that come in tins.

You can get them for about $6 and the 12 pencil set is just the right size.

However, I found that if the bottom of the box had any indents, which many of them do, you can’t move the pans around as easily, nor fit as many.

This Prismacolor box was perfect . . .


It was not inexpensive (about $25), but I used a coupon, and I will put the pencils in a pencil case and sell them in my gallery as a set. So, not as wasteful as it might at first seem. If you don’t have a store and don’t need the colored pencils, they would make a great gift for an artist friend in a decorated pencil cup!

This box is the perfect size and the bottom is absolutely flat.

Here are the same pans that were jammed into that Schmincke box . . .


I can slide them around and group them into any set I might be working with at the moment.

I can get hold of them easily to lift them and read the color if need be, and I can put space between them so I don’t slop one into the other.

AND there’s lots of room to add more colors – as long as I leave plenty of sliding room.

The cover also serves as an easily washable mixing palette.

And, an extra benefit – the palette can sit in its own cover, making a neat little unit. Those hinged covers flopping around drive me nuts. (It’s not a long drive.)

I have been using this for about two weeks now, and I can’t imagine a more perfect solution.

But, who knows. There could be something better to imagine out there some day.

For the moment – I am very happy.

Have a great Sunday.


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14 thoughts on “Magnetic Watercolor Box

  1. yogi

    I love the humour you put in to your writing. just makes me smile.
    love your magnetic box.

    I just put large dots of my tube colors onto thick watercolor paper and let it dry overnight. I also added the names of the colors with a waterproof marker.
    cheap, light weight, easily refillable.
    Have a great day

  2. Jeanne

    Love this idea—and love even more your pursuit of the “perfect” anything! And I love that you journal about it, allowing us all to see, and enjoy, your oinkiness.

    FWIW, if you should find another case that you like, but it’s aluminum, just adhere the magnetic sheet to the inside bottom of the case and use steel pans for the paint.

  3. jessica Post author

    I think that’s a fine idea, Jeanne, but the only pans available, except those small ones from Maria, are plastic.

    But you could always get a small sheet of tine (hobby area of craft stores, and attach it to the bottom of an aluminum box.

  4. Bonnie Luhman

    Jessica, I FLEW over to Maria’s site and bought her little paintbox and extra pans. Too cute for words. I have been trying to get the smallest of travel supplies. I use watercolor journals at home but I use small pieces of watercolor paper when I travel because I work small on trips. (I frame the small ones and use in my Miniature Modern doll houses) Now thanks to YOU I have the perfect, lightweight travel kit.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  5. Maria

    I’m so glad my magnetic palette inspired you, Jessica! An upgrade you might enjoy for your pencil box tin is spray painting the interior. I’ve had good luck with a white glossy hobby paint. It makes a nice surface for painting on. You can see my early mint tin and pencil box palettes that I spray painted here:

    Happy painting!

  6. Marialena S.

    Hi there..
    I did something different. I used a cigarette case like this
    which can hold 16 half pans when in small size (for classic cigarettes) or more when it is for the longer ones.

    First I removed with a cutter the metal blades that hold cigarettes in place.

    Then I stuck under my half pans pieces of magnetic sheets like you did, but instead of buying, I used promotional magnetic cards ( you know these from pizzas, pet-shops etc you put on the refrigerator door).

    On the other side I stuck with Blue tack a piece of white plastic in order to use it as a mixing surface. I could have paint the lid with white enamel paint of course, but then I would have to make two and three coats of paint in order to be opaque enough to mix watercolors, so I preferred not to trouble my self that much. I attach a photo to see my portable watercolor case.

    Happy painting.. :)

  7. kathleen codyrachel

    Thank you so much – I got the magnetic paint case also I love it and filled with some Daniel smith paints but also had half pans filled and didn’t want then to be only used at home Iove this idea!!! Again thank you !!! ♡

  8. Pat

    Used a similar idea but went to our local Hobby Lobby. Their brand Masters Touch have several size tins 12,24 or 36 count. I got the 24 count in a navy blue unhinged tin with white inside the top and bottom. I removed the plastic paint holder and paints ( giving to the kids) and I used really super sticky tape and arranged my colors. You can easily get 48 half pans in this size tin. Like you I love this set up and easy to change out colors etc

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